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Hurricanes in the Northeast

3639 Views 27 Replies 19 Participants Last post by  schreiwalker
is your area ready for a potential hurricane to hit your area? what would the devastation be like if a hurricane did hit?

delaware has been facing and trying to address these questions for the last few years. delaware has never been directly hit by a hurricane since records were kept, and so it's only a matter of time before one does hit our coastline. the effects could paralyze the state.

Flooding predicted if hurricane hits Del.
New maps show extent of surge from worst-case storms

In the worst-case scenario, parts of Rehoboth Beach -- a high spot along Delaware's vulnerable coast -- would be floating in several feet of seawater during a Category 4 hurricane.

Conditions would be even more dire on Lewes, Dewey and Bethany beaches.

In those towns, some flooding right along the ocean -- and in Lewes along Delaware Bay -- would be likely even if a Category 1 hurricane spun up the coast.

The storm-surge projections are outlined in a new series of draft maps, recently completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District, which illustrate potential surge and storm-driven flooding throughout the Delmarva Peninsula.

They are designed to be a tool for emergency planners as they try to determine when and how soon to begin evacuation efforts if a hurricane is threatening the mid-Atlantic, said Joseph P. Gavin, a corps planner who developed the maps.

The 2006 hurricane season is less than two months away, beginning on June 1 and continuing through Nov. 30.

Already, the predictions for a lively six months, coupled with the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused on the Gulf Coast last year, have prompted improvements in storm planning locally.

As the Army Corps maps show, in the most damaging of storms, few places in Delaware would be unscathed.

The potential for harm comes not only from storm surge, but from wind and rain. Evacuation could take anywhere from 24 to 36 hours, said Michael Williams, a spokesman for the state Transportation Department.

Rainfall, in the worst of storms, could cause flooding on the north side of Harrington.

Streams and creeks, swollen by water, could overflow banks from northern Delaware south to Milford and Milton and west to Seaford.

"It's not just the initial landfall that can cause damage," said State Climatologist David Legates. "If it stalls, it can cause significant rainfall. ... Once they are downgraded, they're still dangerous."

In the past, coastal residents were often warned of the potential for flooding in low-lying areas.

But the new maps give more specific details, including a warning to Delawareans who live near streams or inland areas that could be flood-prone in the worst storms imaginable.

This week, emergency planners from throughout the nation, including Delaware, are meeting in Orlando, Fla., for the 2006 National Hurricane Conference.

"We are significantly expanding our capacity to enable us to respond more effectively in the event of a worst-case scenario such as the one we experienced last year," said Joseph C. Becker, the American Red Cross Senior Vice President of Preparedness and Response. "And even if we are not tested as we were then, we will be ready for the challenge."

The American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula, which sent dozens of volunteers to help in the storm-damaged areas along the Gulf Coast last year, used the experience to improve local emergency response plans. The organization also helped more than 500 people who came to the area after losing their homes, said Mark Tinsman, the emergency services director for the American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula.

"Just because a disaster is halfway across the country doesn't mean we won't have people show up," he said.

On the plus side, disasters often generate new volunteers. After Katrina, the Delmarva unit trained 529 volunteers -- four times the number that would be trained in an average year, he said.

Tinsman said many people come forward because they think: "God, if that happened to us, I'd hope someone would come and help us. ... It gets down to that personal level -- what if that was me?"

Already, the Delmarva unit has positioned emergency equipment in cargo trailers in each of the counties it serves, Tinsman said. It also has made sure potential shelters are outside flood-prone areas -- the Red Cross no longer uses Cape Henlopen High School as a shelter because it is too close to vulnerable areas.

But Tinsman said the most difficult task may be convincing people they need to evacuate if a hurricane is threatening.

"One of my real concerns is people won't evacuate," he said. "We need to do more outreach to areas that are vulnerable."

Delaware has had brushes with hurricanes and tropical storms over the years -- Hazel in 1954, Gloria in 1985 and Floyd in 1999 -- but none has ever made landfall in the state.

Scientists at Colorado State University are projecting a 64 percent probability that at least one major hurricane -- a Category 3, 4 or 5, will make landfall along the East Coast or Florida peninsula.

The probability for the Gulf Coast is 47 percent. The forecast, updated last week, is for 17 named storms, 9 hurricanes and 5 intense hurricanes -- all well above the long-term averages.

The scientists look at weather patterns to make their projections and, this year, they are looking at four prior years where weather patterns were similar to those forecasters see now: 1964, 1996, 1999 and 2003.

Legates said the key ingredient for hurricane activity is lots of warm water, which helps a storm grow and intensify. But a factor that can minimize hurricane strength is upper-level wind shear. It blows the tops off the clouds, he said.

Another factor is the thickness of the layer of warm water. A thin layer can quickly be replaced by cooler water just below it. A thick layer isn't easily influenced by cold water upwelling.

Despite the forecast, Legates said, he's not all that worried.

Delaware is tucked back along the shoreline, he said, meaning it's not a target for forward-moving storms. Plus, the warm waters of the Gulf Stream are well offshore, he said.

Still, hurricanes can harm Delaware even without a direct hit. Hurricane Hazel, which made landfall near the border between South and North Carolina as a Category 3 storm, then traveled inland and caused significant damage and even death here.

"The worst-case scenarios we could have would be a hurricane with little atmospheric steering," he said.

A storm like that might appear to be headed away from the coast and could catch planners and residents by surprise by turning inland in the middle of the night while everyone was asleep, he said.

"They are very unpredictable," Legates said.

Bethany Beach would be especially susceptible to flooding.


Hurricane season officially begins June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30. This year's season is predicted to be more intense than usual.

Named storms: 17

Hurricanes: 9

Intense hurricanes: 5


Category 1

WINDS: 74-95 mph

STORM SURGE: 4-5 feet above normal

EFFECTS: Unanchored mobile homes may be at risk; coastal flooding, minor pier damage. Hurricane Gaston was a category 1 hurricane when it hit South Carolina coast in 2004.

Category 2

WINDS: 96-110 mph

STORM SURGE: 6-8 feet

EFFECTS: Damage to roofs, doors and windows. Considerable damage to mobile homes. Flooding. Hurricane Isabel was a Category 2 hurricane when it made landfall in North Carolina in 2003.

Category 3

WINDS: 111-130 mph

STORM SURGE: 9-12 feet

EFFECTS: Damage to small homes and utility buildings, large trees down. Flooding. In 2004, Hurricanes Jeanne and Ivan were Category 3 hurricanes. Jeanne made landfall in Florida, Ivan in Alabama.

Category 4

WINDS: 131-155 mph

STORM SURGE: 13-18 feet

EFFECTS: Complete roof failure on homes, complete destruction of mobile homes. Hurricane Charley was a Category 4 when it made landfall in 2004 in Florida.

Category 5

WINDS: greater than 155 mph

STORM SURGE: greater than 18 feet

EFFECTS: Complete building failures, trees and shrubs blown away. Major flooding damage to structures less than 15 feet above sea level. Hurricane Camille, which hit Mississippi in 1969, caused a 25-foot storm surge. It was a Category 5, as was the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, which struck the Florida Keys, and Hurricane Andrew, which hit Florida in 1992.
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I would sincerely hope a hurricane never hit Buffalo. Not for Buffalo's sake as much as everything in between it and the ocean would have been completely obliterated.

We are usually in the path of the Gulf hurricane remnants, but that's never going to wreck anything.
I don't think a Category 3-5 hurricane would hit Connecticut. Probably the remnants of a hurricane or a weaker one, but nothing life-threatening. The worst thing that could happen is minor flooding

Long Island shields the state from the worst, thankfully. But this area is too north for a giant hurricane.
In the Washington area we don't get no serious hurricanes just the tropical rain!
Floyd killed the Liberty Tree in Annapolis (the last of the 13 colonies)
Isabel flooded downtown Baltimore (Pratt Street was under water)
Like Kenny said, we usually just get the rain with some tropical strength wind
The remenents of Hurricane Fran (?) really devestated the Corning area back in 1971 (i believe) my mother could really tell you more about this, but the entire city was pretty much under water, so they can get this far inland...but at this point I'm not worried so much
If you look at the shape of the coastline and the probably tracks of hurricanes, you can see that, while nature has a way of making fools out of prognosticators, Baltimore is not on the high risk track of real big evil hurricanes. The places at biggest risk are the N and S Carolina coast (obvious) and Long Island. Anybody remember the "Long Island Express" of 1938 which brough massive flooding and wind to LI and Rhode Island? Our relative safety factor is colder water offshore (Cat 4 and 5 hurricanes require deep, 80+ degree water) and the fact that a hurricane would need to come inland in order to hit us, which inevitably weakens them.

That said, a weaker hurricane could really mess up low lying neighborhoods (anybody remember rowing boats around Fells Point during Isabel) with floods and old-tree-rich neigborhoods would be a serious mess even with 80 MPH sustained winds. Most of the area is high ground (50 - 500 feet) but small stream flooding can wreak havoc in unexpected places (Agnes caused major damage in northern parts of Baltimore county). guess is that a Katrina-like mess is not going to happen but lots of lesser disasters are quite possible, depending on how the dice roll in the meteorological crap shoot.
rotten777 said:
I don't think a Category 3-5 hurricane would hit Connecticut. Probably the remnants of a hurricane or a weaker one, but nothing life-threatening. The worst thing that could happen is minor flooding

Long Island shields the state from the worst, thankfully. But this area is too north for a giant hurricane.
I just saw a Discovery Channel episode on that big storm off of the coast of Boston in the late 80's? I wouldv'e wiped out half the city, so hurricanes aren't impossible that far north.
seanlax5 said:
I just saw a Discovery Channel episode on that big storm off of the coast of Boston in the late 80's? I wouldv'e wiped out half the city, so hurricanes aren't impossible that far north.
There was a very bad hurricane that hit Rhode Island in around 1938. The infamous "Long Island Express" picked up an incredible amount of speed (around 70 MPH forward speed) and got from Florida to LI in one day. It travelled along the gulf stream and didn't have time to weaken before it hit. You can make up all the rules you want about storms, but nature bats last.
here's another article from the newspaper this morning. among other things, some people believe that new england will take a big hit this fall from a hurricane.

Forecasts say Del. is ripe for hurricane
Potential for major problems complicated by dramatic growth

In a laboratory in Newark, Xiao-Hai Yan tracks the movement of a massive pool of warm water in the Pacific Ocean using satellite images.

So far this spring, there is no change, he said.

That's good news for people who have lived with monsoons, flooding and mudslides caused by El Niño events in the Pacific.

But here on the East Coast, those neutral images Yan, a professor of oceanography at the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies, sees thousands of miles away are spawning a slew of troubling forecasts for the 2006 hurricane season.

AccuWeather forecasters in State College, Pa., predicted last week six tropical cyclones will make landfall in the United States this year, with five of those storms likely to make landfall as hurricanes. Colorado State University researchers also are projecting an active hurricane season.

"There are few areas of the U.S. East Coast and Gulf of Mexico that will not be in the bull's eye at some point this season," said Ken Reeves, AccuWeather's director of forecast operations.

The potential for major problems is made worse by the dramatic growth in year-round population in Delaware's most vulnerable coastal communities.

Kelley Appleman, a marine policy graduate student at the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies, has been looking at growth closest to the coast.

In South Bethany, for instance, Census data from 1990 and 2000 showed the year-round population grew 239 percent, she said. In Bethany Beach, year-round population grew 183 percent, and in Fenwick Island, it was up 88 percent.

Many of these new residents were older -- the number of people between 50 and 59 increased 333 percent, Appleman said.

Sen. Tom Carper, meeting Friday with state, federal and local emergency planners in Rehoboth Beach, said he worries that people may be complacent and points to rising Atlantic Ocean water temperatures as a real cause for concern.

"The world is changing," he said. "Hurricanes could just as well come into Virginia, Maryland, Delaware or New Jersey" as other south coastal states. "We have to expect that. We have to be ready for that."

One of the most worrisome notes in the forecast comes from meteorologist Bernie Rayno.

"People may be unaware that portions of the Northeast coast have been severely damaged by major hurricanes in the past and that there is a likelihood that over the next five years, the Northeast could be hit by a major hurricane. This could be the year."

Among the factors that influenced this prediction, Reeves said, are the weak or neutral La Niña in the Pacific Ocean and warmer than normal Atlantic Ocean water temperatures.

"Water temperatures play such a huge role," Reeves said. " And we know that in an El Niño year, it really puts the kibosh on Atlantic hurricanes."

This year, there's no El Niño to help offset the power of Atlantic hurricanes.

Reeves said forecasters also look at patterns in the weather over time and typically it seems that when the Gulf states have an especially active hurricane season one year, the following year, the strong storms threaten the Atlantic Coast.

"You look at that and say, "Wow! Man, if that is really correct ... all evidence is pointing" to an East Coast strike, he said.

Another tool is to look at years where there are similar weather patterns. For Reeves, the year with similar weather patterns to 2006 is 1954 -- a year three named storms affected the mid-Atlantic. The worst of these, at least for Delawareans, was Hurricane Hazel.

Hazel's destruction

Georgetown resident John M. Perry remembers his amazement at the damage Hurricane Hazel visited on Sussex County and his grandfather's Cool Spring farm on Sussex 292 in 1954.

"My grandfather was a farmer, and at the end of that storm he was a state employee," Perry said of his grandfather, also named John. "It completely took him out of the farming business. His chicken houses were flattened and livestock killed.

"I was living in Philadelphia at the time and went down with my father to see what we could do after the storm, and it was just amazing, through the eyes of an 8-year-old. He lost all his outbuildings -- he raised chickens and hogs -- some of his outbuildings collapsed on his farm equipment. A huge tree came down and just barely missed his house. It was so big that four or five people couldn't grab hands around it."

Despite Hazel's destruction throughout Delaware -- including Dover and Wilmington -- the center of the storm passed well to the west of the state -- an astonishing thing for people who lived through it.

In fact, said Kelvin Ramsey, a geologist with the Delaware Geological Survey, "no hurricane has made landfall in Delaware."

Oftentimes, people look to coastal areas as taking the brunt of hurricanes, but Delawareans also should be very concerned with storms that travel to our west, he said.

One reason Hazel was so destructive was because Delaware lay in the right, front quadrant -- the area where the winds are strongest, he said,

"We just don't have any real record of severe hurricanes right up the beach," he said.

So much of our hurricane activity depends on where the storms originate.

Typically, Ramsey said, storms on the Gulf Coast don't cause us much trouble. Although Hurricanes Agnes and Camille were exceptions because they brought with them rain and flooding. Storms that follow the warm waters of the Gulf Stream usually pass right by our shoreline.

"They tend to be very rapidly moving storms," he said.

But storms that form from Cuba north to the Bahamas can be a problem for us, he said.

Other weather systems, like highs and lows, often determine where those storms go.

An unnamed hurricane in 1878, caused "a tidal wave" and extensive flooding in the Delaware River and Bay, as the storm traveled along a low pressure valley, Ramsey said.

For Delaware, the riskiest time is usually in September and October when the ocean temperature is its warmest and storms are more likely to come together in the Bahamas, Ramsey said.

He worries that few people in the state have a clear idea of just what a hurricane can do.

"There's hardly any local experience," he said. "No one knows what to expect."

Preparing for a big storm

Since Hazel, there has been significant population and housing growth throughout the state. Delaware's population in 1950 was 318,085 people. Of those, 61,336 lived in Sussex County. Census estimates for 2004 place the state population at 830,364. The population in Sussex County was estimated at 172,216.

Most Delaware residents haven't seen sustained winds of 60 to 70 miles per hour.

"I think it's going to be a real eye-opener for a lot of people," said Wendy L. Carey, coastal process specialist with the University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program.

Carey offers seminars to coastal residents to help them prepare for severe coastal storms. With so much untested construction, "it's difficult to say how things are really going to hold up. ... In a state as small as Delaware, the wind impacts can occur anywhere."

Along Slaughter Beach, Kay Oesterling said that she and her husband feel safe living a few feet off Delaware Bay, even with forecasts calling for a slightly higher risk of a major storm.

"We do follow the weather, especially when we get further into the summer," said Oesterling, a Hershey, Pa., native who started spending summers along the beach east of Milford in 1984 and became a full-time resident 10 years later.

"We've never had any damage," Oesterling said as she clipped wet laundry to a clothesline. "We're on one of the highest parts of the beach, and that might be the reason."

Retired postal worker Clyde Wilkins knows the risk his family faces living along Slaughter Beach without flood insurance.

Wilkins, a part- or full-time resident of the community for 50 years, said that flood insurance prices had surged in recent years to about $1,400 a year.

"We haven't ever had to evacuate and we've never had any damage," Wilkins said, "and the insurance is too high now."

John A. Hughes, secretary of Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said the risk of an intense hurricane strike in Delaware remains low.

"After Katrina, I think everybody winced when they saw what happened in New Orleans," Hughes said.

"The fact of the matter is, looking at it from a fairly dispassionate standpoint, we still have pretty clear evidence that we don't have a lot of exposure."

Cooler mid-Atlantic waters deprive big storms of the kind of energy needed to maintain Gulf Coast-scale winds. Hughes cautioned that Delaware has gotten "knocked about" by tropical storms and hurricanes passing nearby.

State evacuation plans are designed to move residents away from hazard areas quickly, Hughes said, and severe storm conditions and floodwaters typically recede fast.

"We need to make realistic preparations," Hughes said. "We're not preparing for Katrina, but we don't need Katrina to get into a world of trouble around here."

Evacuating the coast

Because the state hasn't had a direct hurricane strike, it's highly vulnerable. Like Carey, Hughes worries that buildings haven't been tested by hurricane-force winds.

"We've got a lot of chicken houses out there that haven't experienced a whole lot of 135 mph winds," he said.

Sussex County emergency operations Director Joe Thomas said Delaware started tuning up its weather emergency plans long before Gulf Coast towns were flattened.

"We feel that we've got a fairly good handle on evacuation, if we have to do that," Thomas said. "If we're looking at a mandatory evacuation of the entire coast, we would be looking, in the peak of summer, at 24 to 36 hours before the start of what we call tropical storm-force winds, above 45 mph."

Evacuation routes generally match those that serve resort traffic, Thomas said, and have little extra capacity. Although some communities speed up evacuation rates by using all highway lanes for outbound travel, Sussex planners found such "reverse-laning" schemes too difficult to control locally.

"What that means is, we'd have to ask people to leave well ahead of time," Thomas said.

Other problems hamper resort-area evacuations, Thomas added.

"My counterpart in Ocean City, Md., used to say that his biggest challenge was, when people come to the coastal areas for vacation, they come to disconnect from everything -- radio, television -- and the biggest challenge is to make sure they stay informed."

Local officials also are pondering local readiness for sheltering evacuees for more than the three to five days typically used in hurricane planning. Katrina, Thomas said, proved that big storms can wipe out any hope of a quick return for huge numbers of people.

"You hope you get people out before the storm," Thomas said. "One concern would be, once the storm passes, how are you going to get back into the area, if it affects the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in any way. Then you have only one point of access to the peninsula -- that's coming across I-95 and down Route 1."

The potential for damage

Delaware Emergency Management Director Jamie Turner said that many Delaware residents focus on risks along the Atlantic and Delaware Bay beaches, Turner said. But the focus needs to be wider.

"The key to our success is notifying and motivating people to leave the impacted areas where ever they may be," Turner said.

A storm like Hurricane Isabel, which swept across Virginia in 2003, instead could have swung slightly east, "come up the Chesapeake Bay and we could have really gotten the bejeezus walloped out of us."

If an intense storm moved up the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware and the Eastern Shore would be raked by the hurricane's northeast quarter, usually the most fierce part of the spiral and an area more likely to spawn tornados.

For state climatologist David Legates, the worst-case scenario goes something like this: It's the last weekend in September and thousands of NASCAR fans have filled central Delaware for the stock car race. A hurricane is hovering off the coast to our south. It's 11:30 p.m. and everyone goes to bed thinking tomorrow will be just another day.

But the storm turns, gains strength and before anyone can evacuate, collides with the coast. Such a storm doesn't have to make landfall in Delaware.

"Just because we don't take direct hits," he said, "doesn't mean we're out of the woods," he said.

Legates said for coastal residents, winter nor'easters can still be the biggest risk. The area from Hatteras, N.C., to New Jersey hasn't been hit by a hurricane in 55 years, he said.

Part of that could simply be the location of the coastline. Hatteras sticks out, as do Long Island, N.Y., and Cape Cod, Mass., he said.

John Schmidtlein, a Bethany Beach resident, recently moved landward after spending 35 years as a part-time resident in a Hollywood Street house two blocks from the ocean.

"One time in the '80s or early '90s, water did get up to the front steps, but it didn't get on the front porch," Schmidtlein said. "I bought that place in 1970 and I was told by old-timers that the big storm of 1962 did come up inside the cottage and turned over the refrigerator and damaged some other appliances."

"I'm told that I'm in a kinder flood zone here, he said.

Off Long Neck Road at White House Beach, longtime resident and missionary Janet Rhoads said she has faith that her home will remain safe.

"We've had this place for about 48 years, and we've never had water in the house yet," Rhoads said. "It's come up close, but it's never come in. We can 't believe it. We're really blessed."

A home near Rehoboth Beach was damaged by a tree that was toppled by high winds from Hurricane Isabel on Sept. 18, 2003.

Sen. Tom Carper fears Delawareans are complacent about the threat of hurricanes.
blangjr21 said:
The remenents of Hurricane Fran (?) really devestated the Corning area back in 1971 (i believe) my mother could really tell you more about this, but the entire city was pretty much under water, so they can get this far inland...but at this point I'm not worried so much
Couldnt' have been Fran, because that one hit in 1996, I know, I was in NC where it made landfall and we lost every single tree in our backyard and had a skylight fly off.
xzmattzx said:
here's another article from the newspaper this morning. among other things, some people believe that new england will take a big hit this fall from a hurricane.
Just what they need after this past week. Hopefully that prognostication is about as accurate as your garden variety 10 day forecast (aka not very).
As possible as it is, do we think it's all that probable? Although who ever thought those doom's day theory's on New Orleans would ever come true...
If a hurricane does hit New England, it wouldn't be very strong. The waters off the coast of New England usually don't get over 70 degrees, if that could sustain any hurricane at all, which I doubt it could, it would be very weak.
the second article says that the best time for a big hurricane to hit new england (or anywhere somewhat north for that matter) is in august or early september, when the water off of the carolinas, georgia, and florida is at it's warmest. the gulf stream would carry that warm water up the coast. once the water starts to cool from the cooler weather, then new england will quickly become less vulnerable.
carolina sucks! :)

weather channel...Carolina sucks. :)
Weather Channel sucks. If I hear Marshall Seese talk about golf forecasts again at 7am, I might skip work and drive down to Atlanta and beat him a few times with a complete set of golf clubs.
ROCguy said:
If a hurricane does hit New England, it wouldn't be very strong. The waters off the coast of New England usually don't get over 70 degrees, if that could sustain any hurricane at all, which I doubt it could, it would be very weak.
Don't forget about the Long Island Express Hurricane back in whenever. Tell them that New England can't get hit by a strong one...cuz they can!

Gloria as well

New York city probably not

Long Island is ground zero though!

And don't forget about the island(forgot the name) off of New York that got sunk by a Hurricane years ago. You guys better watch out, it could happen!

Storm surge is what will get you.
i was just talking with someone tonight about the big one that blasted long island and rhode island in 1938. the storm surge flooded almost all of providence and leveled eastern long island.

Could be possible that a hurricane hits you guys but when was the last time it hit the North if it has ever?
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